Twelve hour school days?

Monday, February 05, 2007

As Push for Longer Hours Forms, Intriguing Models Arise in D.C. via DCIst

Kids in school 12 hours a day? It seems to be working in some schools, but I’m not totally convinced. Of course, if I were totally convinced by a one page newspaper article, that’s probably not saying much.

Anyway, it seems that some schools have had a lot of success with extended days and shorter vacations. It makes sense that, without a long summer off, kids have less time to forget what they learned in previous years. And it makes sense that spending more hours in class will make you learn more than spending fewer hours in class. But I’m not sure there has been enough research into how much might be too much. After a certain point, the kids aren’t going to learn anything. They’re going to be bored and inattentive and start causing trouble. It’s not reasonable to expect them to be in school all the time.

One school that has been successful so far has 12 hour days, broken up into a more or less normal school day, then a break in the afternoon for a few hours, and then dinner, followed by two hours of study hall. Students get home late, but all their work is done for the day. As an aside, during my last two years of high school, I did most of my homework each day either in study hall, the library, or the cafeteria. By the time I got home, I was usually completely done with school until the next morning. It was fantastic - my grades were good because I wasn’t blowing off work, and I had plenty of time to enjoy being a kid.

I’d be curious to see what happens when a couple of regular public schools try this. It will take some time, as the teachers and the curriculum will have to adjust as well as the students.

I worry, though, that some kids are really going to suffer if they spend this much time in school. For example, for me, middle school (grades 6-8 if you don’t/didn’t have middle school in your area) was an almost entirely social learning experience. I certainly learned some school stuff, but the real bulk of what I learned was about dealing with other people. Up to then, I had been in private school. Sixth grade was really my first experience having classes with kids who weren’t upper-middle-class and white. I’ve long advocated sending thirteen-year-olds in groups to work on farms and things instead of trying to teach them how to pass high school entrance proficiency tests. Get a big diverse group of kids, have them spend six weeks getting up at 5AM, shoveling manure and plucking chickens. I know, it’s prohibitively expensive. Whatever.

It’s funny to finally be really thinking about schools and techniques for teaching kids in a much less abstract way than before. The wife’s not pregnant, and we’re not trying at the moment, but having children is finally something that will probably happen sooner rather than later. I think my perspective on schools will change a lot more once I get closer to having school-age children.

Posted in: Harvard Street